With a Critically Endangered conservation status, there are only a handful of this unique Madagascan tree left in the wild. On the very brink of extinction, the mampay is a prime example of the fragility of Madagascar’s ecosystems, but Kew and others are working with local communities to secure its future.
The mampay tree is restricted to a remnant of coastal forest, Petriky, in South-East Madagascar.
Its dense wood makes it attractive to local people for use as structural support in homes and when burnt it produces charcoal.
Harvesting and habitat destruction has limited its range considerably in the last thirty years, and now the IUCN have classified it Critically Endangered, estimating that there are no more than 25 individuals growing in the wild.
Its distinctive, vanilla-scented woody fruits grow in tight folds and float, allowing their seeds to be dispersed downriver. It’s thought this unique shape is an adaptation to water dispersal.
Despite this, levels of seed production and germination in the remaining wild individuals are very poor, giving little chance for natural regeneration.
All of this suggests a bleak future for the mampay, but the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership banked a collection of its seeds in 2008, and, with one of the world’s largest collections of preserved plants, the Kew Herbarium, at our fingertips, our scientists were able to step back in time and examine collections of the plant made during a period when it was more widespread.
By analysing its DNA, the Kew team were able to investigate the genetic structure of the surviving and extinct mampay populations, supporting local communities to bring this at-risk tree back from the brink.